Watt returns after injury to lead Texans defense
HOUSTON (AP) J.J. Watt is healthy and ready to lead what should be another strong Houston Texans defense.
The superstar defensive end is set to return after missing all but three games last season because of two back surgeries.
”I feel very good,” Watt said. ”I’m very excited to be out there. I’m not here to make any proclamations. I’m not here to say any breaking news, but I’m very, very excited … for the season.”
Last year was the first time Watt missed a game in his six-year career and coach Bill O’Brien can’t wait to see him back on the field in a game that matters.
”Anytime the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is healthy and ready to go, that makes me feel really good,” O’Brien said. ”So that gives me a lot of confidence. I like the way he’s practiced this training camp … I’m looking forward to watching him play.”
Things are much less certain on offense. Quarterback Tom Savage, who has never thrown a touchdown pass, is leading a unit that has a shaky line and questions about who will play opposite star receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
But Hopkins, who signed an $81 million contract extension last week, brushed off concerns and thinks Savage will help the unit improve this season after last year’s disappointment with Brock Osweiler.
”I think he can be real good,” Hopkins said. ”He knows this offense like the back of his hand. He knows the players in this locker room real well, better than anybody.”
Savage is entering his third year in the NFL, but has appeared in just five games with two starts while serving mostly as a backup. His two starts came last season when Osweiler’s inconsistent play got him benched. Savage looked good in the preseason and retained the starting job despite Houston drafting Clemson star Deshaun Watson in the first round.
”I’m proud of Tom. He’s a resilient guy,” coach Bill O’Brien said. ”He’s really worked hard to learn our system. He’s had to overcome a lot … but overall he’s had a good camp and it just needs to keep going.”
Some things to know about the Texans as they prepare for their opener Sunday against Jacksonville.
HURRICANE HARVEY: The Texans are dedicating their season to the city and the victims of Hurricane Harvey after the storm and the flooding that came in its wake devastated Houston and much of southeast Texas.
Watt started a fundraiser which has raised more than $19 million for the cause. He spent Sunday handing out supplies to evacuees. He hopes this weekend’s opener can provide a small distraction for the city during this trying time.
”Football is secondary in this conversation,” he said. ”This is so much bigger than football. But during this season, if, for three hours every Sunday we can take people’s minds off of what’s happening and put a smile on their face, we’re going to do that, and we’re going to play as hard as we possibly can to make these people proud.”
HOUSTON’S RECEIVERS: The Texans are thin at receiver after losing 2016 first-round pick Will Fuller to a collarbone injury early in camp, Braxton Miller is dealing an ankle injury, and Jaelen Strong was suspended for the first game for violating the NFL policy on substance abuse.
All of their problems at the position could force them to start Bruce Ellington, who was signed as a free agent on Aug. 11, against the Jaguars.
”I have been impressed with his ability to come in and pick up what we do,” O’Brien said.
DIFFICULT CUTS: Houston’s final preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys was cancelled last week to allow the Texans come back to check on their families after the hurricane. While the Texans were glad to get back earlier than planned, the cancellation made O’Brien’s job reducing the roster to the 53-player maximum much more difficult.
”Obviously that was one less opportunity that guys had to play, but in the end that’s just the way it was,” he said. ”It’s too bad that it happened, but it did, and you just have to do the best you can to make the best decisions for the team.”
NEW KICKER: Ka’imi Fairbairn is taking over as Houston’s kicker after the Texans released veteran Nick Novak on Saturday. Fairbairn signed with Houston last season after going undrafted and spent all of year on injured reserve.
Novak had been Houston’s kicker for the last two years.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL